Perfectionism is Protective
I've been thinking a lot about perfectionism.
One part of me knows there is no such thing as perfect. Another part of me would appreciate it if I gave it a shot anyway. Maybe we'll surprise ourselves! This overly optimistic perfectionist within us is an inner critic. But what if we assumed it had good intentions?
Could this perfectionist part of us be protecting us from something?
What is it worried will happen if it didn't drive us toward perfection?
Perfectionism keeps us from taking risks, even worthwhile ones. It can be easier to jump when relational safety is present, perhaps because we aren't in uncharted territory.
In a lot of realms, our perfection antenna goes up and we shrink back
unsure of how to handle imperfections being exposed.
My inner critic strongly encourages me to 'just do better,' and is often exhausted and afraid. It drains enormous amounts of energy to battle ourselves all day.
When most decisions we make are weighed down with shame over how we've performed in the past, it's easier to understand why our inner critic is so cruel. How can you partner with yourself more to ease the anxiety over how you're perceived by others? What do your inner critics say to you?
An exercise to tune into your inner critic
I'd like to invite you to turn toward the perfectionist parts with compassionate curiosity to understand what they're protecting you from.
If you try the exercise below, there's no need to make meaning of what comes up. You don't need to respond or judge. Just make room to listen with compassion toward a part of you that is trying to help.
Spend a minute grounding yourself wherever you are - seated, in the car, walking - take a deep breath through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth.
Think of a time recently when you were filled with harsh words toward yourself. Perhaps you forgot something important or made a big mistake (for the third time).
Imagine your inner critic chiming in.
Bringing a spirit of partnership and kindness, gently ask your inner critic some of the following questions if it feels right for you.
What is your job?
How are you helping me?
What are you worried will happen if you don't do your job?
What would you rather be doing?
Who is making money when I treat myself this way?
Pause to leave space for a slow response. Notice if there are any sensations in your body.
When you've done enough exploring, thank your inner critic for helping you understand.
These small steps to listen to your inner world are mighty acts of healing and liberation.
If your body rejects your attempts to explore internally, don't push past that. You can simply acknowledge that there are protective parts of you that are keeping you safe by veiling your feelings. That offering of noticing is as mighty as engaging in a conversation with a critic.